Every day we read story after story of coronavirus deaths and hospitals under stress. These reports are true, but they do not give us a full picture of reality. If we heard more stories about the shutdown’s effects on people’s lives, our views (and our fears) would be more balanced. Authorities have offered three main reasons for this shutdown: protection of the elderly and vulnerable, protection of the healthcare system, and protection of citizens in general. I am only one person and my stories are not near the worst, but I will examine these three areas accordingly and hopefully add to our picture of what is at stake.
A lady in my church is a geriatric nurse. She has been laid off because her clinic has closed, which means that thousands of elderly people are not receiving their regular care.
My father’s friend has Alzheimer's and lives alone. He usually sees visitors and caretakers every day. Now, nobody is allowed to come. It was already hard for him to remember each of his relations, but the regular visits helped. The lockdown has probably stolen his last remaining days of meaningful connection with others.
The oldest member of my church is nearly 100 years old. She was recently admitted to the hospital. Her daughter went to the hospital to visit her mother, but was told she could not visit because she might be carrying the virus. Her mother will likely die soon, and probably not from the coronavirus but from the common cold or flu. This is tragic—because now she will die alone.
Another friend’s grandmother has a daughter who is mentally handicapped. She lives in an assisted living institution. Her birthday was two days ago. She had no visitors.
If we examine the data from this period, we will see common geriatric health conditions worsen, abuse in assisted living situations go up, and countless elderly people die alone. Are we really taking care of our elderly by shutting everything down? Is this what they themselves want?
Another major concern in this pandemic is the healthcare system. I already mentioned the geriatric nurse who has been laid off. The ladies who took care of my grandpa two months ago, before he passed away, are laid off. I’ve heard of countless other medical employees who have lost their jobs; some will not be rehired when this is over. My uncle is an urgent care doctor in Pennsylvania. Two of his clinics have closed for the time being because with everyone staying home, they did not have enough patients to keep the doors open. Another nurse I know works for St. Anthony’s Hospital, one of the largest hospitals in Denver, where I live. She reports that they are running at less than half capacity. Everything has been cancelled.
A few weeks ago, as things escalated in America, I was having dinner with a few friends. One friend, who is currently in medical school, said that he was worried the hospitals would actually not have enough patients during this time. We all laughed and thought he was crazy. Surely this would not be an issue. Oddly, it seems as though he was right. Some hospitals are overwhelmed; but many others have the opposite problem. A large portion of the healthcare sector is suffering—partly due to the virus itself, but partly due to our self-imposed shutdown.
We have shut down in the name of health. But we seem to have reduced the idea of “health” to simply “avoiding coronavirus.” The overall health of Americans will likely decline this year—not only due to the virus, but due to the amount of healthcare services that have been cancelled or deemed “non-essential.”
One friend has been battling stage four colorectal cancer. A fundraiser was set up so she could receive treatment in Mexico. She got the funds, but shortly after she arrived in Mexico, she developed a fever and was sent home without any treatment. A few weeks later, she had excruciating pain in her head and neck. She was rushed to the hospital with her mother and husband, but when they arrived, they were told that neither of them could accompany her. She was sent in alone for brain surgery to remove a tumor.
My hospital informs me that all prenatal appointments for women with low-risk pregnancies have been cancelled and moved to phone conversations. My first pregnancy was said to be “low-risk,” yet I came down with severe pre-eclampsia, and came close to losing my life. How many life-threatening conditions will go undetected now, especially among the poor, who already struggle to get proper healthcare?
Both of my sisters-in-law are pregnant. They have been warned that two things may happen when it comes time for delivery. First, they may not be able to have any visitors, not even husbands. And second, if a mother tests positive for COVID-19, her baby may be taken away before she has the chance to lay one finger on the child. Such an unprecedented rule should only be in place if overwhelming evidence suggests that being isolated from the mother for fourteen days will be drastically better for the child than staying with the mother and drinking her antibody-rich breast milk. We have no such evidence. And what little evidence we do have suggests that statistically, this virus has a milder effect on infants than the common flu or an infection from Group-B Strep (a common bacteria present in one out of every four mothers, according to the CDC). The CDC does not recommend taking babies away from their mothers for these diseases. Why should it do so now?
Both my sisters-in-law are now looking into home births. Many other women are doing the same, fleeing the established medical system and its policies. Unfortunately, some of these births at home may have complications, some life-threatening. America already has one of the worst maternal death rates in the developed world. We know that regular prenatal appointments lower that rate, as well as the infant mortality rate. These rates will inevitably go up this year.
We will likely also see rising rates of drug and alcohol abuse, domestic and sexual abuse, teenage pregnancy, pornography use, depression, and suicide. Two kids who usually attend my family's church are no longer attending. They are at home with their parents: two struggling, recovering drug addicts. How will their parents fare? They have lost their jobs, cannot attend recovery meetings, and are stuck at home with endless time on their hands. My brother brought them food last week; it appears they have both turned back to meth.
We live in a low-income part of town. The poor seem less convinced that the shutdown is truly for their benefit, and I don’t blame them. On my daily walk, I see groups of teens hanging out in the church playground. The smell of marijuana in the air is strong. These teens were already at risk. How will they fare now that we have cancelled their classes, cancelled their sports, and isolated them from their grandparents?
Are we really protecting the health of our citizens by shutting down? What is worse, the virus or shutdown? So far, the media are not labeling the many deaths caused by suicide, overdose, undetected cancer, and prenatal complications as “deaths caused by shutdown.” Will we connect the dots? As we go forward, we must consider these questions—and must stop imagining that those who ask them are murderous monsters who care nothing for the health of society.
Alicia Coyle writes from Denver, Colorado.
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